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Archive for August, 2011

Cooper’s hawk tries to chase plastic (fake) hawk out of yard

Cooper’s hawk tries to chase fake plastic hawk out of its territory. Photo by Phil Grover, Concord, CA
1coop phil grover concord

Our neighbors put up a hawk decoy to keep ducks out of their swimming pool.  It has been there for some time.  Recently we witnessed a young Cooper’s hawk (we think, you tell us) trying to drive the fake hawk out of the neighborhood.  Well, that is our guess at its motivation. It seemed quite agitated and was making a lot of noise as well as flying many times at the decoy.  It gave up after about 20 minutes, a long time in our estimation.
Phil and Sue Grover, Concord, California

Phil & Sue:
It’s an adult Cooper’s hawk. Because of it’s size, probably a male (females are a bit larger). That’s pretty funny. It appears to perceive the fake hawk as an intruder on its turf. Is the decoy just as effective at keeping ducks out of your neighbor’s pool?

These decoys seem to have limited effectiveness if simply plunked down in one spot and left there. After a time, the birds in the area tend to get used to the decoy, realize it is doing nothing and forget about it. You need to move them around every day or so to make them seem more alive. You might pass that bit of info along to your neighbors. /Gary

Cooper’s hawk gets aggressive with fake plastic hawk. Photo by Phil Grover, Concord, CA
1coop2 phil grover concord

Posted on Wednesday, August 17th, 2011
Under: Cooper's hawk | No Comments »

Swallows lined up and ready to leave their nest over the back door

Baby swallows in nest with mama swallow (right). Photo by Sharon Emes, Benicia, CA
1swallows2 sharon emes benicia

We enjoy your column very much. Thought you might be interested in our swallow nest built right above our screen door. Mama seemed to sit on that nest for months! Finally we saw four little heads pop up. The last picture (below) is mama on the left giving her four fledglings instructions for the big send off, while they are standing at attention! It was a thrill to have them and hear their precious chirps.
Sharon Emes, Benicia, California

It wasn’t quite months that she spent on her nest. About two weeks to hatch the eggs and then around three weeks for the youngsters to get big enough to leave the nest. I’m sure it seemed longer than that to her, though! Swallows are neat birds. /Gary

Mama swallow (left) gives her babies instructions for the big send off. Photo by Sharon Emes, Benicia, CA
1swallows sharon emes benicia

Posted on Tuesday, August 16th, 2011
Under: Swallows | No Comments »

ARF’s Emergency Medical Fund needs your support

ARF photo: Cat in distress
valentine arf

Last week, a dog named Rocky was brought  to ARF’s clinic, suffering from extreme abdominal pain. After x-rays, it was determined there was an obstruction in the intestine and surgery was needed to help save Rocky’s life.  ARF’s medical team discovered huge amounts of string, which was most likely broken up particles from a towel, from the poor dog’s intestine and stomach. Nearly two feet of intestines had to be removed since the foreign body was so damaging, however, ARF’s skilled veterinarian was able to perform the life-saving surgery.

Rocky is now at home with his family and is healing well but what about other injured animals who’s owners can’t help with a broken leg, or respiratory illness?   Without the Emergency Medical Fund (EMF) and individual donations, Rocky may not have made it.

The EMF program has saved the lives of thousands of animals in need and is often the last hope for families struggling to get by, who experience an unexpected injury or health crisis in their pet.  It is not only traumatic emotionally, but financially – sometimes their only apparent choice is to euthanize or surrender the animal to an uncertain future.

EMF not only saves lives, but also prevents shelter overcrowding, keeping beloved pets at home with their loving families.  Our funds are dangerously low in this economy, at the time when the most demand is being placed on medical services.  Can your faithful readers help rescue a pet in need of medical attention and avoid their suffering?   No gift is too small to help (love it when the children get involved and host penny drives) and donations can be made at
Elena Bicker, Executive Director, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation,
2890 Mitchell Drive, P.O. Box 30215, Walnut Creek, CA 94598; 925-256-1ARF
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Posted on Friday, August 12th, 2011
Under: ARF, Tony La Russa's Animal rescue Foundation | No Comments »

Burrowing owls struggle as development gobbles up their habitat

Burrowing owl with eye injury. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
1burrowing owl dave harper oakley

Burrowing owls are struggling as development advances. Here is a photo of an unfortunate burrowing owl that has an eye injury. I would love to catch this character and take her to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek. Perhaps if it becomes weak enough to catch I may try.
Dave Harper, Oakley, California
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Posted on Thursday, August 11th, 2011
Under: Burrowing owls | 3 Comments »

Dirty birds: “Splish, splash, I was taking a bath … “

Mourning dove taking a bath. Photo by Joe Oliver, Walnut Creek, CA
1dovebath joe oliver wc

There’s nothing like a cool bath on a hot summer day.

That’s what these birds think.

Everyone’s got their own little bathing technique. Check these out.

Got any photographs of birds bathing in your backyard? Email me a copy to with any added information about same) and I’ll print them here. The more, the merrier, as they say! /Gary
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Posted on Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
Under: Bird bath, Birds | No Comments »

Gophers: Want to know what they look like? Check these photos

Botta’s pocket gopher sticking its head out of a hole. Photo by Joe Oliver, Walnut Creek, CA
1gopher joe oliver wc

Can you please show me what a gopher looks like? I occasionally see some sort of little rodent (I think) sticking its head out of a hole in my backyard. I think it may be eating some of my plants but I don’t really care. I’m willing to share. Thanks.
Jenny C., Palo Alto, California

Above and below are photos of a Botta’s pocket gopher (the local species that lives in the Bay Area) sticking its head out of a hole. You can also click on this link to see more gopher photos.

Hope this helps. Have you given the little rodent a name, yet? /Gary

Botta’s pocket gopher sticking its head out of a hole. Photo by Joe Oliver, Walnut Creek, CA
1gopher2 joe oliver wc

Posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
Under: Gopher | 2 Comments »

Saturday’s Beaver Festival IV was “the biggest, best ever!”

Beaver tail painting contest at Beaver Festival IV in Martinez, CA, on Aug. 6. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds, Worth-A-Dam.
1beavertail contest cheryl reynolds

I just got a note from Heidi Perryman, the guiding light behind Worth-A-Dam, the special organization that protects and promotes the Martinez (CA) beavers. Heidi says their Beaver Festival IV on Saturday was “the biggest, best ever!”

You can find out lots more about these wonderful beavers, and the even more wonderful humans behind them, and their exciting annual event at

Meanwhile, just sit back and enjoy this beautiful photo of the Beaver Tail Painting Contest at the event by Cheryl Reynolds of Worth-A-Dam. Great shot, Cheryl! I can hardly wait for next year! /Gary

Posted on Monday, August 8th, 2011
Under: Beavers, Martinez Beavers | No Comments »

Starting to see California quail in local backyards

California quail female with chicks in local backyard. Photo by Lynda Nunn, Walnut Creek, CA
1quail2 lynda nunn wc

I’m starting to get more and more reports of California quail parents bringing their babies into local backyards these days. Ten years ago, there was hardly a quail to be found, I suspect because feral cats were killing them.

I’m also getting email from more and more people who say they’re seeing coyotes near their homes.  I wonder if the coyotes are thinning out the feral cat population, which, in turn, is allowing the quail population to increase?

Time will tell, I guess. Interesting. /Gary

California quail female with chicks in local backyard. Photo by Lynda Nunn, Walnut Creek, CA
1quail4 lynda nunn wc

Posted on Friday, August 5th, 2011
Under: California quail, coyotes, Feral cats | 2 Comments »

Great egret catching crayfish on Grayson Creek

Great egret catches crayfish in Grayson Creek. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
1great heron dave harper oakley

Here’s a great egret catching a crayfish on Grayson Creek.
Dave Harper, Oakley, California

On my way home from work, I often see one of these big white herons stalking crayfish and frogs in the tidal marsh area at the Martinez Marina offramp off  northbound 680 at the south end of the Benicia Bridge. They just walk slowly along in the water, head cocked, eyes focused, until … BAM! Another frog or crayfish dinner goes sliding down the inside of that long neck. Great photos! /Gary

Great egret swallowing crayfish caught on Grayson Creek. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
1great heron2 dave harper oakley

Posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2011
Under: Great egret | No Comments »

Mountain lion tracks and coyote spotted on local hikes

Mountain lion paw print next to human hand. Photo by Anne Jarmuz, Pleasanton, CA
1lionprint anne jarmuz pleasanton

On Thursday, June 23, in the morning, I was on a hike with East Bay Casual Hiking Group out of Castle Rock Regional Rec. Area. We hiked to Borges Ranch Interpretive Center. As we were leaving the center, we say a coyote on the hillside. He was being dive-bombed by many birds. He must have been in their nesting area. He wasn’t at all bothered by the birds or us as we walked by.

Then on June 29, after the June 28 rain, I was hiking the north end of the Pleasanton Ridge. … I passed many very clear footprints on the trail. Could they have been a mountain lion? They were quite large, one image compares to my hand, and I have large hands. There were no nails and it looked like they were following deer tracks.
Anne Jarmuz, Pleasanton, California

Coyotes will often sniff their way through fields where birds (usually blackbirds) are nesting in large numbers, trying to locate the nests by smell so they can eat bird eggs and/or babies. The birds know this and will rage and rant and dive and scream at the coyotes. The coyotes, unfortunately for the birds, are well aware that this is all posturing and the birds can’t do anything to hurt them. As you say, they just ignore the birds.

Looks like a mountain lion print to me. Cat tracks leave no claw marks and it is the right size and shape. Mountain lions also pass through the area. You can Google a search for “mountain lion tracks.” If you compare your photo to the ones you find there, you will see that they match. Pretty neat! /Gary

Coyote on hillside looking for bird nests. Photo by Anne Jarmuz, Pleasanton, CA
1coyote anne jarmuz pleasanton

Posted on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Under: coyotes, Mountain lion | 1 Comment »